I'm sending this from the beautiful TCU campus where I have been teaching an intensive course this week to the dance dept. There is nothing like teaching to a group of students who are eager and avid to learn all they can to improve their technique. And an extra perk is the Texas sun and warmth – It's going to be hard to go back to Ohio weather!
Quick reminder that registration for Lisa Howell's Perfect Pointe Workshops ends today. Register at http://theballetblog.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=67&Itemid=152
Onto the questions of the week!
Thanks for creating such a valuable resource. I attended your session at the Dance Teacher's Conference in New York back in August and found your information so helpful. One of my legs is a little longer than the other. This does affect my ballet dancing, particularly my turnout and jumps, etc.. I've also noticed that the longer leg is a little more weak than the other. Are there any exercises I can do to help? I am new to your newsletter so please forgive me if you have already addressed this issue. Thanks, Jennifer
Jennifer, if your legs are structurally at different lengths it can influence your alignment. It's tricky to decide whether or not you should insert a small heel lift in your soft slippers. Your spine needs to be looked at to evaluate it's curves and response to the shorter leg. Sometimes the spinal curves become less when the pelvis is balanced by putting a heel lift in - other times it might make your spinal curves worse, in which case you would not correct the leg length difference. I would suggest you see a PT or sports physician who could do an assessment of your spine and leg length.
There are some common patterns with uneven leg length - some of which you have referred to. When you look at the picture on the left you see the dancer has a pelvic shift right, torso shift left. The common pattern is to stand on the long leg, because to stand with more weight on the short leg would require you bend the long leg. You can see her left leg is the shorter leg.
Typically you come down heavier on the short leg side on each and every step. Sometimes dancers prefer to stand on their short leg and use their longer leg as the gesture leg - although I have seen the opposite preference also. It certainly can influence the turnout too. More often I see the long leg side having more challenges with turnout. It is easy to understand that you'd prefer to stand on your long leg and put your shorter leg in front in fifth position.
The dancer in this photo improved her alignment by putting a lift under her left heel. It evened out her shoulder line as well as equalizing the amount of weight through both legs. She put a lift in her every day shoes - as well as in her soft slipper. For modern dancers sometimes it is enough to have a lift in your shoes - keeping the musculature working evening for the majority of the time, then dancing barefoot without a lift.
There aren't any special exercises I would offer to you to even out the two sides, rather I would encourage you to have an evaluation to see if a lift would be useful, and then do your stretches and strengtheners in such a way that you are working to balance out the 2 sides. If you find the muscles around the right hip tighter, but weaker, then do more stretching and strengthening on that side. Don't feel you need to do your workout exactly the same on both sides. It is very common to have one iliopsoas muscle tighter than the other and I tell people if you only have time to do one side - do your right side, as many times as you can throughout the day. Then as the two sides feel more even, you can reflect by stretching more evenly as well.
I have a student who is complaining of her arches and ball of the foot hurting when she rolls up to pointe. She has fairly flat feet and either tight calves or short achilles tendons - she does not have a very deep demi-plie. She also tends to roll onto the outside of her pointes. Any ideas as to what can be causing her pain (plantar fasciitis?)? Courtney
You've hit upon some of the reasons in your question. Having overly tight calf muscles will pull on the plantar fascia, and encourage such standing patterns such as standing slightly forward onto the ball of the foot. That decreases the pull slightly, but over time, certainly doesn't help to get a deeper plié.
You didn't indicate where she felt her pain when she rolls up to point. Plantar fasciitis is most often felt on the underside of the foot. The diagram to the left illustrates this.
If she is feeling pain down towards the toes, perhaps she is rolling to the outside of her feet as a way to get away from the pain. It would be useful to send to her a good sport podiatrist who may be able to evaluate her feet and make sure she doesn't have any problems such as a sesamoiditis.
Have sesamoiditis once myself I know how easy it is to simply rise a little bit more towards the little toe side to get away from the irritation and inflammation of the area underneath the big toe.
There are other reasons she might feel some discomfort only in relévé, but we won't go into those now. My advise would be to have her get checked out and make sure there isn't anything structural going on.
As far as deepening her demi plié, I would encourage her to do a lot of soleus stretching. Spend 1-3 minutes in the following stretch.
Until next time!
"Education is the key to injury prevention"